10/09/2008 11:00PM

Dawn Raider tries to end Ness slump


STICKNEY, Ill. - When Dawn Raider came back after being passed in the stretch and won a $35,000 turf claimer on Sept. 11 at Arlington Park, it seemed to loudly announce the return of trainer Jamie Ness to the Chicago circuit. Ness, a regular at Canterbury and Tampa Bay, stabled at Hawthorne for the first time last fall and won a slew of races at the meet. When Dawn Raider and a couple of his other Arlington entrants ran well, it seemed like Ness was gearing up for another big Hawthorne fall.

Well, Dawn Raider is back in again Sunday, racing in the featured fifth race here, and the really surprising thing is that he might be attempting to become the first Ness-trained winner of the meeting. Through Friday's first race, Ness had gone 0 for 21 so far this Hawthorne season. There is plenty of time for the barn to get rolling, but as far as making an early impression? Not so much.

Last week, Ness attributed some of his losses to the deep, laboring Hawthorne main track, but that won't be an issue for Dawn Raider, who starts in a nine-furlong grass race open to third-level allowance horses or $40,000 claimers. Dawn Raider races under the claiming option, but that's no matter if he runs back to his Arlington form. There, Dawn Raider raced on the early gallop, seemed to be getting swallowed up in midstretch, but came again in the final half-furlong to prevail by a neck over Spider Power, who is back for the Sunday feature, too.

Spider Power added blinkers last time out; that in some combination with a class drop produced an improved effort. Tom Archdeacon wheels back two weeks after finishing a close fourth while racing behind a false pace in the Grade 3 Robert Carey Memorial Handicap.

Mamma Lina tries to bounce back

Trainer Dale Bennett declined to offer excuses for Mamma Lina's seventh-place finish in the Sept. 6 Arlington-Washington Lassie.

"I just didn't think it was a very good race," Bennett said. "She scoped clean and everything. Just throw the race out and start over."

The Lassie stood in stark contrast to Mamma Lina's only previous start, a 14-length thrashing of Illinois-bred 2-year-old maiden fillies in her career debut on July 30. Mamma Lina, a $260,000 2-year-old purchase earlier this year, was 3-5 in that race, and she ought to be a similar short price attempting to get her career back on track in Sunday's fourth race, an Illinois-bred entry-level sprint allowance race.

Mamma Lina has trained well and worked well since moving from Arlington's Polytrack to the Hawthorne dirt track, Bennett said. Sunday's allowance race serves as a prep for the Nov. 1 Showtime Deb, but it's a prep that Mamma Lina should win.

Few survivors left in contest

Hawthorne's online handicapping contest this meet is called "Survivor," but it might better be known as "Terminator."

Contest participants are asked to select one horse per racing day. If the horse finishes in the top three, the player survives the day. Well, the contest began Saturday, and after four racing days, a starting total of 2,233 players had been narrowed to 248 survivors. Even taking into account those that signed up and didn't play, that's a staggering total, especially since favorites have been winning here at a 45 percent clip this meet.

There was a "Beat the Pros" component to the contest, and nine of the pros are out. The 10th is Hawthorne's communications and fan education manager, Mitch Demick.

"The fact that I'm alive is no big deal to me," said Demick, a dedicated horseplayer who came to Hawthorne a year and a half ago from New York. "It's only four days. I'm not exactly patting myself on the back right now."

Should a participant survive the entire meet (odds on that, anyone?) they'll earn a $250,000 prize. The contest winner gets a $2,500 prize.